Monday, July 26

Considering "Toy Story 3"

I missed a lot of movies last year. There was a theater in Nairobi, but at best, we only made it there once a month and it only played blockbusters with recognized stars. I never even found the theater in Bali. This did not bother me nearly so much as I thought it would because, really, what did I miss? The radical underlying themes of Surrogates? The torture-porn-lite of Precious? The pretty, pretty pictures of Avatar?

The only movies I was disappointed I didn't get to see in theaters were Inglorious Basterds and Moon. Until this summer at least. I came back mid-June and missed the first official month of the summer blockbuster season. I'm still annoyed that I haven't seen Iron Man 2, and I only managed to see Toy Story 3 this past Saturday.

That wait was very much worth it.

I am not one to applaud and cheer film lest the director, cast and crew be present, but I had to actively hold myself back at the end of Day and Night, the opening short. The mistrust and jealousy that grew into mutual joy between the characters from their differing perspectives and the sounds drawn from their scenes left me smiling like an idiot. The message may have been a bit heavy when they discovered the radio tower, but there could be no better representation of it than this short and the image of the setting and rising suns.

And that was only the prelude to the feature.

In a way, I have grown up with Toy Story. The first was released when I was eight. When my parents bought the video, my sister and I watched it everyday immediately after coming home from school for at least two months. I saw the sequel four years later. Now I have seen the final installment, and it has only become more resonant. Andy aged slower than me, but like him, I am still growing up and moving on. If I have learned anything about maturing, it means leaving many people and things behind but never forgetting that they were good. To see it reflected like this, in the process, is something special.

The Toy Story series is unique among Pixar and animated films and, dare I say, even the greater canon. While using anthropomorphized animals, elves, robots, orcs, aliens, whatever is a common enough technique for engaging contemporary themes at a certain slant, they have always been essentially and recognizably human, just with different ears or processors instead of brains. WALL-E was curious and fell in love. The Na'vi were essentially stereotyped American Indians with their face paint, minimal clothing and naturalistic religion. The characters of Toy Story, however, while experiencing courage, loyalty and friendship are really not human. They are entirely defined by their relationship with their owner. Woody, in his insistence that they be there for Andy, even if it means spending years in the attic until he brings them down again for his own children, represents this most clearly, but the others, who are ready to move on aren't doing it for themselves either. Yes, they want to be played with again, but it is a subservient relationship they are looking for, one they have no agency in. They aren't looking for personal fulfillment or to find themselves, only to be actors in the stories their boys and girls create.

I don't know how much more alien they could get and still I have not cared that much about any characters since that Ewok that wouldn't get back up. When they took each other's hands, stopped fighting and waited for the inevitable after going through so much else, the weight of that scene can never be overstated, but it takes nothing from seeing Woody glance away at the mention of Bo Peep or Andy's mom seeing his emptied room. Wow.

Like every other Pixar film for the past decade or so, Toy Story 3 will take Best Animated Film no problem, and that's too bad. It deserves a shot at the Best Picture award, and were the Oscars held today, would have no trouble winning it. The only real competition I see is David Fincher's The Social Network.  Oh please, let that be excellent.

On a side note, the Washoe Theatre in Anaconda now joins Spokane's Magic Lantern Theatre as a place where the venue holds as much an attraction as the presentation itself. It was a joy just to be somewhere where someone had cared enough to make it beautiful. With reasonably priced popcorn, snacks and drinks and an intermission to enjoy them during, the Washoe Theater is a place that could even make watching Grown-Ups a tolerable evening.

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